Book Review: Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie (2017)

August 25th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Read. This. Book. Today.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss, as well as a finished copy through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for violence against women and children, including sexual assault and rape, as well as racism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.)

At the 2004 National Coalition on Police Accountability conference, a man who identified himself as a former member of the Black Panther Party approached me at the end of the workshop. He said that his sister had been raped by a police officer “back in the day,” but he had never understood what happened to her as police brutality until he had heard it framed that way in the workshop. I asked him how he and his sister had described her experience. He answered, somewhat bewildered, that it was “just something bad that happened.” He then thanked me for opening his eyes as to how his sister’s experience fit into the work he had been doing all his life to challenge state violence against Black people.

Chances are, when you hear the words “police brutality,” you picture a young black man – armed with only a bag of Skittles or a cell phone – killed in the streets, either by gunfire or a Taser or with an officer’s bare fists: Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Sean Bell. Mike Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. (Although, at just twelve years old, this last could hardly be described as a man, even a young one.) Yet black women and women of color – including disabled women, trans women, and lesbian and bisexual women – also suffer from racialized police violence, compounded by gender and other axes of oppression.

Black women activists and scholars – such as Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the founders of #BlackLivesMatter – have begun to shift the conversation in recent years. From the #SayHerName hashtag – created in response to Sandra Bland’s death while in police custody – to the groundbreaking AAPF report “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected,” discussions of police violence are widening to include black women, people of color, people with physical and mental disabilities, LGBTQ and Two Spirit people, sex workers, children, and more.

Andrea Ritchie’s Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color is an invaluable contribution to the literature. She tackles a difficult and admittedly wide-ranging topic with passion, insight, and a boatload of receipts. Ritchie pinpoints seven sites in which black women and women of color are vulnerable to police violence:

* girlhood, e.g., as schools push to criminalize previously normal juvenile misbehavior, like talking back;

* disability, such as when police are called to perform a welfare check on someone who may be in mental distress and whom they are ill-equipped to deal with; or when trying to communicate with a deaf person;

* sexual violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape;

* gender, i.e. when police enforce gender norms in behavior and dress; this can range from hassling women with a more masculine gender presentation to disbelieving rape victims who were “asking for it” by their nonconformity to white ideals of womanhood;

* sex, such as targeting those engaged in sex work, or “gender checks” for trans or gender nonconforming folks;

* motherhood, which ranges from police violence against pregnant women and mothers on one end of the spectrum (thus endangering children and fetuses), to criminalizing the parenting choices of black women and women of color, many of them a direct response to poverty and lack of resources (see, e.g., Laura Browder, a black woman who was arrested after leaving her children at a food court while she interviewed for a job…at the same food court); and

* police responses to violence against women, which can paradoxically result in additional violence against the victim, including physical assault, sexual assault, and murder.

While each of these chapters could easily fill its own book (indeed, on the topic of girls, police, and education, I strongly recommend Monique W. Morris’s 2016 title, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools), Ritchie skillfully distills each topic into an engaging and informative look at one aspect of racialized and gendered police violence. Each chapter fits seamlessly with the others; indeed, there is quite a bit of overlap, and I often found myself nodding at how one thread circled back to touch many others. I especially appreciate her inclusion of strip and body cavity searches which, as state-sanctioned (and in prisons, required) forms of sexual assault and rape, are particularly unsettling.

In addition to problems, Ritchie also examines solutions, with profiles of various activists and movements that have coalesced around different cases or sites of police violence. While, according to Ritchie, the ultimate solution lies in dismantling the police state (although, admittedly, it’s difficult for me to imagine what this might look like), she primarily focuses on less radical measures. Specifically, she points to four measures that could have the greatest impact – in no small part because they have been the driving force between increased contact between marginalized communities and the police: ending the war on drugs, the war on terror, immigration enforcement by police, and broken windows policing.

Thoroughly researched and documented, with the perfect marriage of reasoned arguments and righteous anger, Invisible No More is a must read – for everyone. By focusing solely on black men and men of color, we miss the myriad ways that police violence manifests in other communities. Invisible No More will teach you to widen your perspective – and, hopefully, your circle of compassion.



foreword by Mariame Kaba xi

chapter 1 Introduction 1
chapter 2 Enduring Legacies 19
chapter 3 Policing Paradigms and Criminalizing Webs 43
chapter 4 Policing Girls 70
chapter 5 Policing (Dis)ability 88
chapter 6 Police Sexual Violence 104
chapter 7 Policing the Borders of Gender
chapter 8 Policing Sex 144
chapter 9 Policing Motherhood 165
chapter 10 Police Responses to Violence 183
chapter 11 Resistance 203
chapter 12 Conclusion 233

afterword by Charlene Carruthers 342
acknowledgments 346
notes 352 index

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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